Recently at one of my clinics I was asked for the second time to try and keep my laughter down. Admittedly, to say I have a loud laugh is probably an understatement. It's probably more a booming laugh. It is possibly the one thing I do unreservedly. I have often had the expected comments from my colleagues that I may be avoiding potentially difficult emotional issues by cracking jokes. Fortunately I am very aware of my own human desire to avoid difficult emotions and have trained myself to "lean in" to those moments when I know that it would be helpful for the person sitting opposite me. However, I often have a client coming into my practice who feels they have nothing left to laugh about. Some clients have decided that their lives are without humour. While the severity of circumstances and mood disorder differ from client to client, it is certainly not my job to support a perspective that is not flexible. Words like "always" and "never" are the enemy of a healthy perspective on your life.
Perspective is important. It provides you with a less pervasively hopeless opinion of your life and opinion of your self and will bolster your resilience to move through another day in the direction of your values. Humour can be a wonderful gift in these situations. It can also provide a great relief while doing some of the "heavy lifting" that comes with addressing long entrenched behavioural habits. Don't be fooled. Some of the hardest revelations can come from humour. Analogies and metaphors are often amusing on the surface but can really shine a light on the absurdity of a habit that someone cannot seem to shake off. In therapy I am often trying to foster a separation between how the client conceives of themselves as a total person and the odd habits they have found that they are repeating.
This all sounds a little abstract so let's try an example. If an anxious client takes their social performance at a party very seriously you can see how the client's issue is missing the point of a party. I understand how a party can be a double edged social event. You're supposed to be having fun, but people can often judge or take first impressions far too seriously. My questions then move to, what are your values in relating to other people? Do those values include presenting you for you, or to project an image that people expect? How can you then accept the idea that some people might not judge you well? How can you foster connections with people that will accept you for who you are? Can you see how bringing humour to the conversation here will help readjust the expectations or self-concept of a client? Can you see how that humour might help them edge toward a more valued life?
Humour can also be used to remind us both that we are trying to move toward a life with more laughter. If that goal is high up on your list perhaps you've found the right therapist!